Mitra, the Phoenix Lord
Mitra, the primary god of the Hyborians, was one of the rare benevolent gods, believed to be all-pervasive and without a physical form, although he was often pictured as a tall man with wide-set, piercing eyes, curly hair confined by a simple band and a patriarchal beard. Mitra would accept no living sacrifices of any kind, since for him all life was precious, although Mitraic temples took extensive tithes from worshipers in money and services. Mitra was a civilized person’s god, whose followers believed him to be omnipresent. No human being could ever know what Mitra truly looked like, but he was often depicted “in idealized human form, as near perfection as the human mind can achieve.”
According to Mitraic belief, each person was called to live a virtuous life. It was the obligation of each individual to follow the tenets of the faith of Mitra, which included truthfulness, honor and trustworthiness. In Mitra’s tenets, telling a lie or betraying a friend were truly mortal sins. In Mitraic theology, there was a heaven and a hell and men’s souls were subject to judgment in the afterlife by the god, based upon the types of lives they had led. Some Mitraic followers even believed that Mitra wanted people to forgive their enemies, a foreshadowing of the “golden rule” espoused by the Judeo-Christian theology of a much later period. Mitra was the most common god worshiped in Hyboria, and was the chief deity in almost all Hyborian kingdoms, including Aquilonia, Argos, Ophir, Nemedia, Brythunia, Corinthia, and even Zingara. The worship of Mitra was a monotheistic one. There were a host of saints in the faith, as men were heard to swear by them on occasion, but there could be no other god than Mitra, though his followers recognized that other entities calling themselves gods did exist in the world. His followers were fervently suspicious towards other gods and religions, especially the worship of Set and of the Pictish animal gods, which they saw as demons. Mitraic temples were civilized places where worshipers were expected to stand upright before their god, not crawl about on their bellies like worms as in many other Hyborian faiths of the period. If there existed a female consort for Mitra, her name is no longer known. As one scholar put it, like his later Hebrew counterpart, “Mitra stood essentially alone.”
As opposed to Crom and Set, Mitra was a kind god, although he holds his followers to high standards. The theology is based on justice and a very strong sense of right and wrong. His followers are expected to strive for justice and are encouraged to forgive. There was a huge clergy associated with the worship of Mitra, and one could find temples in his honor everywhere his influence was spread. Mitra’s temples were conspicuously free of ornamentation. They were supposed to reflect the pious and ascetic ideals Mitra expected his followers to emulate. Mitra did not need precious metals and elaborate ornaments in his honor. He wanted dedication and prayer, not superfluous sacrifice; and he abhorred the ritual of human sacrifice prevalent in many other Hyborian religions of the time.
Mitra held his priests to even more strict behavior. Priests of Mitra had to remain celibate and abstain from all alcohol and mind-altering drugs. One of Mitra’s most potent aspects was as the Defender, protecting Hyborians from evil sorcery, most specifically from his ancient enemy, the serpent-god Set.
In his battles with Set, Mitra preferred working through mortals, so that those who were called to be his champions can both defeat Set and act as living proof of the validity of his cult’s moral tenets. Mitra often sent visions and revelations to mortals through dreams.
In addition to performing their service to the deity, priests of Mitra acted as keepers of ancient Hyborian lore and wisdom. Above all, they sought to oppose the evils of the priesthood of Set. Priests of Mitra were required to tithe one-quarter of their income to one of the god’s temples. The greatest Mitraic temples were found in Nemedia and Aquilonia.